At the beginning of this year, as I was accepted to take part in the #TCRNO5, my feelings were of excitement and panic, both in equal amounts. Now, two months after successfully finishing the race and knowing what I've been through and what it took to finish this beast of a challenge, I think that panic was a more suiting feeling back in January.
In early Spring, as the weather here in Romania was getting warmer and warmer, I was fantasizing about how I will be putting those long rides in. I was to train with dedication, according to a strict and rigorous plan. I would arrive at the start of the race incredibly well prepared with thousands of k's in my legs. Of course, that did not happen at all. Not to say that I wasn't cycling or that I wasn't already fit and with an extensive endurance cycling base already in place. It just took my ages to prepare all my gear and some of the items arrived in the last two weeks leading to the race. I did not manage to have those really long back to back rides to test the bike set-up, sleeping set-up or how I was going to react to riding 500 k's in one go.
In one of my longer training rides (actually just a 180 KM ride - this is what I considered long before the TCR :)) ), I developed some sort of weird lateral knee pain. The pain wasn't that intense but constant throughout a ride and a couple of days after that. I never had this before and I was genuinely concerned that I managed to destroy my knee.
Most of you know that in Spring, as he was taking part in the IPWR in Australia, Mike Hall, the endurance cycling legend and founder of the TCR was killed in a car crash. After the initial shock of the news, rumors started to appear that the TCRNO5 race was going to be postponed. Everyone, myself including, were going to support the organizers in any kind of decision they would take. This was a huge blow to my motivation and together with the other facts that I mentioned above, they just made me loose my interest in the training. The months passed and, as there was no news from the organizers, I just conveniently presumed that the race is off. I should have known better. The extraordinary people, that are part the TCR community, would just do the impossible and make the race happen. Just as Mike would have wanted it.
On one random day in June we all found out that the race will go on as planned. Yes, panic and some more panic. I had less than two months to prepare psychically and to get my gear sorted out. I felt as the race had already started. I don't how, but I managed to have all my sh*t in place three days before the race!! Optimal planning baby!
I planned to arrive in Belgium in the day prior to the race so that I had enough time to prepare my bike and to do minor tweaks if something went wrong during transport. Luckily all went well and I had time to do a 100 km test with all the race gear on my bike. I had just one learning but it was a major one. I spent a lot of time planning the 4.000 km of the TCR but I didn't plan the 100 k's that would take me to the start of the race. Idiot! My mobile data connection was not working on the day I landed so I had the brilliant idea to use the pre loaded Garmin maps as a back up solution. Never again! It seems that Garmin has no clue about where road bikes belong.
Anyways, after a long day through the fields of Belgium, I arrived on time for the registration, I got my cap #tcrno5cap057 and my SPOT device and I headed to the main square in Geraardsbergen for the final phone calls with the family. At 22:00 sharp, 400 cyclists were unleashed on an unsuspecting continent. Gas stations, McDonalds and all road side shops we're going to be taken by storm by this giant two-wheeled army. In the following three weeks, the consumption of ice cream, shitty 7 - Days croissants, Coke and coffee will explode in sequential manner from Belgium and all the way to the finish line in Greece.
CP 1 - Schloss Lichtenstein
My plan was to arrive at CP 1, which was 600 KM from the start, on the second day of the race. I wasn't keen on cycling through the night as it's the most dangerous period to be on the road for a cyclist so my plan was just to stop cycling every day around 11 PM and to start again at 6 AM. On the first day I did cycle until around 2 AM and then I stopped to sleep for around 4 hours before starting again.
I could tell my route was quite strange as I wasn't meeting too many TCR participants on my way. I was mainly cycling on bike paths through rural Germany. Actually, there were hardly any people, cars or just...any living beeings were I was riding. Just a lot of crops. Hmm. That was my first hint that something fishy was happening with my route. That "something" did actually get a name by the time I was cycling out of CP 2. More on that later on.
On the evening of the first day, we received terrible news from the TCR organizers. Frank Simons was killed in Belgium in a car crash just hours after departing from Gerardsbergen. The news just shocked everyone in the TCR community and especially the riders and their families. I was thinking about how devastated must Frank's family and the TCR organizers have been feeling in that moment. I could feel how my motivation was dropping as I was slowly realizing that it could have been me in stead of Frank. That thought was just paralyzing. I had to make an instant, selfish decision to focus on the race and to keep riding safely until the end. I promised myself that I would ride for Frank and Mike and for this crazy thing that we call endurance cycling all the way to Greece.
My mood was still bad on the following day as I was making my way towards CP 1 but the daily, steady grind helped me focus mostly on the race. As I was approaching Schloss Lichtenstein and the end of the day, I could see there was a storm hitting that area. Luckily I managed to avoid it and I arrived tired but dry at the bottom of the parcour. Here I had the brilliant idea to leave my Apidura bag at the bottom of the climb in some bushes so that I can save some precious energy. The plan was to do the climb and then descend back to the CP to get my stamp, eat a giant bowl of...anything and sleep. I started to climb around 12 PM in a good mood even though it was dark and cold. As I was half way through, I was thinking about my Apidura bag and I was hoping nobody would steal it as I had literally everything in it: money, ID, clothes and....the freaking SPOT device! Yes, it just hit me that I left it at the bottom of the climb. So technically I was just resting in the bushes as far as the dot watchers were concerned. F*ck! I was furious at my stupid mistake and I turned around to get my stuff back. Oh man, I was swearing all the way down and to punish myself I put the whole bag on the bike and made the climb again, this time for real.
I arrived on a empty tank at the CP 1, I got my first stamp of the race and then just crashed 10 meters away in my bivvy bag.
[ to be continued ]